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Monday, June 30, 2014

Kabir and Ramanand

Recently, I had a lively debate with my nephew (Karpur Shukla) about the supremacy of western discourse in understanding and interpreting non-western thoughts.  

We tend to be highly critical of the “Orientalists” but the fact is that most of our understanding of our culture, society, people, heritage, religions, spiritualism, and atheism, etc. is through English. And a lot of their original work was truly path-breaking.

Mahipati’s (1715-1790) Bhaktivijaya is considered a classic of Marathi literature. I have a translation of the book (Stories of Indian Saints) by Dr. Justine E. Abbott and Pandit Narhar R. Godbole, originally published in 1931 and reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass in the 1980s.

My introduction to the predominance of the Bhakti-Sufi way of thinking across the subcontinent has been through books such as this one.

Here’s an anecdote from the book about Kabir and his guru Ramanand.

He (Kabir) said to himself one day as his mind was thinking about it. “If one does not have a guru while in this earthly existence, he should be called a man without life…”

So I must go with feelings of reverence as a suppliant to the sannyasi swami Ramanand. Having decided this in his mind, he remained with that determination.

When after seeing many kings with her own eyes, and carefully considering the matter, Sita saw the form of Sri Ram, her heart chose him at once.

When the daughter of king Bhimaka (Rukmini) heard of the beautiful form of Shri Krishna, she sought to win him as her husband. So it was that Kabir held the desire for the dust of Ramanand’s feet.

Finding himself alone one day, he at once arose and went to the hermitage of Ramanand and loving embraced his feet.

Standing first at a distance, Kabir besought Ramanand saying, “Your greatness must show me compassion.”

When Ramanand heard Kabir’s voice, he put his fingers in his ears, went into a cave and sat alone on his mat.

Kabir stood outside and said in his soft sweet voice, “A lowly and helpless one, I stand at your door. Give me your assurances and satisfy my desire.”

Ramanand said to Kabir, “You were born in a Muhammadan family. I have, therefore, no authority whatever to give you instructions.”

Ramanand continues…

All wise men recognize that seed should be sown in a field after the examination of its soil. In making a gift, one should first seek someone worthy of it. When giving daughter in marriage one must choose the proper bridegroom.

Kabir replied, “I have determined to come to your feet. I have not spared body, speech or mind in doing so.

The moon loves the chakor bird but even if the love may not be exclusive, yet God in His pleasure rains nectar on it for its devotion.

Should the sun not express its intense love for the lotus by rising, still it will not open by an attachment for something else.

In the making of an earthen image of Dron, the reverence of the Koli (Ekalavya) bore fruit. So I have embraced the swami’s feet with body, speech and mind.

Thus speaking, Kabir again with love prostrated himself on the ground before the Swami. 

He then hastened back to his home with his mind full of intense love.

The story then goes on to describe how Kabir overcomes Ramanand’s resistance and accepts him as his disciple.

Here's a combination that is clearly made in heaven: Kabir, Abida Parveen, Gulzar:

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